Apple's Eggshells of Personalization

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by: Gary Hayes

RealMedia and Microsoft have had their knuckles rapped once already and it seems that the normally tread-carefully Apple have started to upset a few folk with their ‘collaborative filtering’ methodologies via iTunes.

The BBC article ” Snooping fears plague new iTunes” points out that Apple is watching you. Every time a viewer visits the iTunes store and more significantly plays various tunes on their local machine data is being sent back to Apple who ‘anonymously’ (alledgedly) then use this data to recommend. Like Amazon a simple model of those who bought/listened to this also bought/listened to this.

The row arose following the update to the iTunes software released by Apple on 10 January. The new version includes a MiniStore feature that recommends tracks to buy similar to those a user is listening to. MiniStore looks for similar tracks when a user clicks on a tune in a playlist. It even makes recommendations about songs that were not bought via the hugely popular online music store.

Now this makes a lot of sense given the traffic around iTunes but why was it so underhand and secretive? We have all, of course read the terms and conditions that Apple send out with every update of iTunes, you know the ones that you immediately click on ‘accept’ when you realise it would take you an hour or so to read every word of the electronic doc that keeps you from your tunes! I suspect there will be a line or para or two about how the data is not stored and that you are ‘not being’ spy’ed – but even now I don’t have time to look for it! Lets keep consumer confidence in personalization systems above this ‘big brother’ level please Apple. Set examples that the industry can use as a model. There is going to be more and more of this in the coming years and it would have been good for Apple to set the benchmark of personalization customer relations. As it is…

“Privacy advocates complained that Apple had not done enough to warn people about the information that was being collected, nor what was being done with the collected data. By contrast Apple does mention in the licence agreement for iTunes that it contacts the Gracenote music database to work out which album is being played via the program. (snip) Macworld magazine reported on its website that an Apple official had told it that nothing was done with the information collected. The magazine called on Apple to be upfront about the information it was collecting and what was being done with it. “

You can turn off this ‘ministore’ feature but I would suggest that at the very least industry adopts an ‘opt-in’ approach at all times. Asking people to turn something off that they didn’t already know was on, watching their consuming habits is going to bring nothing but trouble not only for the company concerned but for the industry moving forward.

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